Co-directors Zang Chun and Liang Xuan labored for 12 years to bring their animated fantasy Big Fish and Begonia to fruition. Inspired by a dream one of the directors had—about a small fish that grew too big for any container—Big Fish and Begonia tells a tale similar to Miyazaki’s Spirited Away: A heroic girl, Chun, lives in a world of mythical monsters whose presence and histories remain as mysterious as they first seem. (Chun’s grandfather is married to a phoenix! Okay!)
When Chun is sent to the human world as a rite of passage, she nearly drowns before being rescued by a human boy—who then immediately drowns instead. Wracked with guilt, Chun goes on a quest to try to save his spirit and restore him to life.
There’s some choppiness as the animation moves between panoramic CGI-assisted scenes of enormous whales swimming across the sky to smaller-scale sequences that are supposed to look hand-drawn, but aren’t. If you can let these aesthetics marry in your mind, there’s a chance you can fall under Big Fish and Begonia’s spell—one that, at its best moments, transports you to a mystic realm beneath the ocean, inhabited by beings halfway between humans and gods.